Oxford college banned Christian group from freshers’ fair

As the university academic year kicks off, once again, we see a Christian Union having their activities on campus restricted.  Balliol Christian Union (CU) was banned from attending the Freshers’ Fair by the JCR over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers” and because they wanted the freshers’ fair to be a “secular space”, according to Oxford’s student newspaper Cherwell.

Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it, according to leaked emails. Balliol CU boycotted this option.

The decision has caused anger at Balliol, where a motion was reportedly passed unanimously accusing the JCR committee of “barring the participation of specific faith-based organisations” and describing the step as “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

In an email exchange, JCR vice-president Freddy Potts, on behalf of the JCR committee, reportedly told a CU representative:

“We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers’ fair, but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”

“Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”

In a Facebook post, JCR president Hubert Au said the decision to have a multi-faith stall rather than a specific CU stall, was reached “in light of both concerns raised by members [of the Welfare sub committee] and by an undergraduate survey conducted last term, which indicated a lack of familiarity as to where non-Christian societies, events and services were located”, the paper reported.  “We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair.”

The Rev Nigel Genders, the Church of England’s chief education officer, said:

“Freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental principle that underpins our country and its great institutions and universities.

“Christian Unions represent some of the largest student led organisations in many universities across the country and to exclude them in this way is to misunderstand the nature of debate and dialogue and at odds with the kind of society we are all seeking to promote.”

The Rev Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF) said:

“We are however concerned that the current desire to provide safe spaces on campus does not infringe on the core liberties of freedom of speech and freedom of association which are surely foundational to the university experience and indeed to basic human flourishing.”

Youth Evangelism Officer appointed

jimmy_dale__002_Jimmy Dale has been appointed as the Church of England’s first national Youth Evangelism Officer.

In response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s focus on evangelism. Jimmy will take up the role in October. He will hold a national remit to develop and disseminate models of evangelism among 11 – 18 year olds.

This new role aims to promote the mission of the church to and by 11-18 year olds. In collaboration with Dioceses, Jimmy will develop, pilot and evaluate effective models of youth evangelism that enable young people to reach their peers with the Gospel. Working alongside bishops, clergy, youth advisers and youth workers, he will then ensure that parish leaders have ready access to those models.

Speaking after his appointment, Mr Dale said:

“I’m so excited to be starting in this new role and the potential that it brings. It’s brilliant to see young people as they evangelise to their friends and support them in that, and helping churches reach young people with the good news of Jesus. I am really looking forward to working alongside people across the country as we seek to support and promote where youth evangelism is working well, as well as dreaming together of new ways to reach young people with the gospel.”

Mr Dale will work with both the Mission and Public Affairs Division (MPA) and the National Education Office of the Archbishops’ Council, as part of a small team focussed on youth evangelism.

Jimmy Dale comes to the post having worked as Centre Director and founder of Newham Youth for Christ and with previous experience in youth work. He holds a BA (Hons) in Youth Work and Applied Theology from the University of Gloucestershire.

Welcoming the appointment, the Director of MPA, the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown, said:

“I am very pleased that we have appointed Jimmy Dale to this important new post. It represents a creative response to the priority of youth evangelism which combines the resources of the Education Office and the Mission and Public Affairs Division and will start to address the challenges of reaching out to a generation which can confound our assumptions about how they see the world, the church and the gospel.”

Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, added:

“The priorities set out in Going for Growth include every young person having a life enhancing encounter with Jesus Christ and the Christian faith and recognises the vital need to enable the capacity of young people as agents of change and transformation. We are delighted to welcome Jimmy to bring a specific focus on youth evangelism to this work and look forward to working with others across the church as we seek to enable young people to reach their peers with the good news about Jesus.”

Information about Going for Growth can be found here

What is religious education for?

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Nigel Genders, Chief Education Officer for the Church of England has recently blogged on What is religious education for?.  He starts with:

It is tempting to see the primary reasons for good religious education as being combatting extremism and promoting community cohesion. This feeds nicely in to national political and news agendas but by doing this we confuse safeguarding with education, distort the need for a healthy pluralism in society and accept a simplistic narrative that says religion is the cause of most of the world’s problems. The primary purpose of religious education must in fact be to enable young people to make sense of themselves and the world in which they live and from these seeds will grow communities equipped to live well together.

It’s really worth taking a few minutes to read his take on the need for good quality religious education.